As the Kansas University baseball team began its downward spiral last season, Justin Headley found himself helpless -- and voiceless -- against it.
"Last year, I was kind of passive about it," Headley said. "I saw what was wrong with the team, but I didn't say much about it. I never really felt like part of the team, at least early on."
Don't expect Headley to bite his tongue this season.
As the cornerstone of the KU defense and one of the Jayhawks' most experienced players, Headley sees himself as a leader this time around, along with junior shortstop Joe DeMarco and senior second baseman Josh Kliner.
"I like that," said Headley, a left-handed junior first baseman-outfielder. "I'd much rather have it in my hands. I wouldn't say I'm The Man. But me and Josh and Joe, we have to be the leaders out there."
Headley, from Bartlett, Tenn., played in 32 games as a freshman, batting .364 with 15 extra-base hits. He failed to meet Big Eight guidelines for progress toward a degree and enrolled for the fall semester of his sophomore year at a junior college back home.
Though he missed out on fall drills, Headley returned last spring and played in 53 games. He started 49 games -- including 24 at first and 25 in the three outfield spots -- and hit .294 with 35 RBIs.
Headley, for one, can't wait for the Jayhawks to open their season on Friday against New Mexico State in the Duel in the Desert in Phoenix, Ariz. KU will play NMSU at 3 p.m. Friday, Grand Canyon U. at 11 a.m. and NMSU again at 10 a.m. Sunday.
"I know I'm looking forward to it," Headley said. "I can't speak for the rest of them, but I'm looking forward to playing a game."
The Jayhawks will open with few outside expectations. They were picked by Baseball America to finish sixth in the seven-team Big Eight this year.
Headley couldn't care less.
"That doesn't bother me that they say that one bit," Headley said. "Last year they said we'd finish third, and we were ranked. Maybe it fires us up a little bit, but it doesn't matter. We still have to go out and player every single game."
Headley doesn't know where he'll play this season. He likely will spend most of his time at first and move to the outfield when juco pitcher-outfielder Mario Opipari takes the mound. Headley's replacement at first is juco transfer Aaron Wilmes, a Lawrence High graduate.
"We haven't discussed it at all, but it doesn't matter to me where I play," Headley said. "I like first, but I'll do whatever it takes, play wherever I have to, for us to win. If I have to play outfield for us to win, I'll do that."
This much is known -- the Jayhawks will be tested early. Included in the early-season opponents are New Mexico State, Texas, Louisiana Tech and Ohio State.
"Our schedule was tough last year, too," Headley recalled. "It shouldn't matter. If we play hard, we've got the talent to beat these teams. A tough schedule in the beginning should help us out later on."
The Jayhawks have spent most of the spring preseason indoors at Anschutz Pavilion. They moved outside for the first time Monday and practiced outside Tuesday and Wednesday.
They will leave for the Duel in the Desert today.
KU's home opener, weather permitting, will be Feb. 23 against Missouri Western.